Voices for Human Rights: Rebecca Schmidtke, National Youth Organizer

I first discovered Amnesty International when I was in grade 10 after my teacher gave our Civics class a presentation on it. I instantly wanted to get involved, I’ve always been motivated to help others and to do my part to make the world a better place but I didn’t know how to affect that change on my own. I started looking into Amnesty after that and signed up to receive their Urgent Actions and began participating in their campaigns online.

It is when I got to university when I really got more involved. My school had an Amnesty International Club and it was the first extracurricular I ever signed up for and I would be heavily involved in it for the next four years. In my first year I joined the executive committee as the Events Coordinator, my first big task for Amnesty was to help plan our Genocide Awareness Month. The first campaign I really worked on for this group was for the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia who were at risk of genocide. I started a correspondence with the Colombian government in 2014 to put protective measures in place for Indigenous Rights Activist, Juan Pablo Gutiérrez who was being threatened for his work. Seeing how Amnesty’s letter writing campaigns, can have success really motivated me to continue this work and to be involved as possible. From then on I have been heavily involved with Amnesty’s participating the CNCA’s campaign ‘Open for Justice’.

In my third year of university and as President for our Amnesty Chapter, I organized an event on Indigenous Land Defenders in Latin America with a letter writing action to our MP, Mark Gerretsen to petition him to table a Private Members Bill based on the Open for Justice Campaign. We had around twenty-thirty letters that we went sent to Mr. Gerretsen and he took notice of our work. He asked to meet with me to discuss the campaign and how he could help. Myself and another member of our group prepared a report for him on the Campaign, the model legislation, and what we hoped he’d do. After our meeting he agreed to table the Bill for us, which was an incredible feeling. I had another experience where I got to see Amnesty’s work have an impact and again it motivated me to do more. In the weeks following this meeting, we found out the government actually had plans to create a Bill to enact an Extractive Sector Ombudsperson. Which has since been created (although not with the exact powers we want, so we’re still working on this campaign!)

After I left university, I wanted to make sure I could still be involved with Amnesty and I joined the Business and Human Rights + Indigenous Rights Team here in Toronto, after about a year with this team I became the Chair and I joined the National Organizers Program. Being in both teams have allowed me to connect with many like minded activists who motivate me everyday to continue fighting for human rights! I have gained more skills and learned more about the topics I am most passionate about. I am really proud of my BHR+IR Team, in the past year we have worked on many successful campaigns, one of our members created a letter to send out to MPs during our last federal election to ensure that the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would be a priority and would get implemented after the election. This letter ended up becoming a national letter writing initiative for Amnesty International Canada. We are still working on this campaign and I hope that we see some positive progress with it soon.

I feel so lucky to be a part of the National Organizers Program. I have been able to work alongside so many inspiring youth leaders in activism and it has made my work better. I am in awe of my peers in this program and all the wonderful initiatives and events they’ve put on in their communities.

Being a part of Amnesty International has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, I am doing work that I can be proud of, and getting to meet incredible individuals that I am now lucky to call my friends. I am excited for my future with Amnesty and to see what comes next!